"Janine Vega has the capacity to channel the intuition of children down to death, Hell and the devil. If my child attends her classes, we'll sue.
-- Excerpt from a parent's letter to a local school."
from Janine Pommy Vega, Mad Dogs of Trieste
A TREE FULL OF BIRDS
--------------------for Janine Pommy Vega
That's what I heard one morning
In a no-nothing town between
Phoenix and Tucson, where it
Appeared desolate and desperate
With a mall and a motel and a big
Highway running through it all
And even the motel desk didn't
Know the name of the route number
Of the highway when I asked the
Next morning with a desire to go
To the mountains north — as if no
One went to the mountains from here —
But I did, and before I left, hours
Before I asked any questions, birds
By the hundreds came to the trees and
Bushes of this motel square, dipping
Even into the swimming pool, and whether
It was sunrise that lit each bird yellow
Or if in fact they were yellow and each
Singing magnificently in the coolness of
Daybreak when I was awakened gladly
And stepped out my door and onto a long
Balcony to see and hear and feel the most
Beautiful day in the world begin
from Once In Vermont
SOME GREATEST HITS WITH JANINE
She wrote to me from Lake Titicaca, the heart of the Inca Civilization,
my first 'fan letter' (we laugh), for my first book of poems, both of
us young authors with the same publisher (Cherry Valley Editions).
When we finally met, after a few years first of correspondence, I introduced
Susan and myself after Janine's reading at Jack Powers' Stone Soup in
Boston. Janine gasped, lit up, told the first person right next to her
"These guys raise ducks & geese!" Yes we did. Two hours away and far from home.
Janine nodding and smiling and sizing us both up for years to come.
She would love Susan with the same lovely quiet that is Susan.
That night, none of us slept. We hiked over the Longfellow Bridge
twice, slow with talk and the dark Charles River below. A phantom fellow
joined us, unknown to us, probably until that night unknown
to Janine. As a boy I learned quickly things aren't always as they appear.
Susan and Janine agreed: driving the Mass Pike west to east is the pits.
Better east to west. Something about Berkshire, Catskill, Niagara...
A few years later Janine visited us in our cabin, slept in my library of bark,
books and twigs; rose hours and hours after we did. Made sure to do yoga,
meditation, had special drinks and brought her own blender. A pot of rice.
Soon after we all drove through New Hampshire, higher into the White
Mountains. When we stopped to show her the Old Man in the Mountain
the Jersey girl got out and gazed publicly, "Aw, man, look at that." This was
after years of living on the streets with the pros, then as a hermit in Bolivia ~
Peru, writing two or three singular books of poems, losing a husband to an
early death who she never stopped loving, and paying attention always to the
down-trodden, phantoms. She climbed the peaks of the Catskills / Himalayas.
Worked the toughest prisons in North and South America. Adored the children
of the world. She worked with me twice at the same girls school and was so good
some of the teachers were afraid to have her back. The students begged to have her back.
Who wins that fight in the real world? We had a dog named Bo who Janine called
"Mister Bo". Cats took precedence. She, Susan and I once hiked her woods all
day for a bear she insisted we would find. It didn't matter. Hunting with Janine
is a poetry class with your eyes wide open. 35 years later we are talking on the phone
and maybe she knows she is dying but she will never tell me this. This is the second
time an elder poet friend has called me a week before they die. I'm starting to pick up
the signals of how ordinary and simply beautiful the conversation is. In this conversation
I reminded Janine how the battery on my phone would soon die. We always had a good
laugh over that one — machines ran out of gas; we didn't. I also tried to caution the one
I love, as she railed on with a myriad of health problems, that she must remember that
not everyone was as tough as she was. Without losing a beat she dazzled,"You-think?"
with the best giggle of any 68 year old girl I've ever known. Today I was in her library for
12 straight hours sifting and saving, sifting and saving, I couldn't stop, neither could Susan.
You would burst into tears if I told you and showed you how many piles and stacks and boxes
of children and prisoner and migrant worker and hopeful student poets work she has saved
for decades. Without any ability to throw them out. In the same care and position as her own
bundles, files, books on her library shelves. I won't tell you. I don't want you to cry.
On Raglan Road of an Autumn day
I saw her first and knew,
That her dark hair would weave a snare
That I might someday rue.
I saw the danger and I passed
Along the enchanted way.
And I said,"Let grief be a fallen leaf
At the dawning of the day."
On Grafton Street in November, we
Tripped lightly along the ledge
Of a deep ravine where can be seen
The worth of passion play.
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts
And I not making hay;
Oh, I loved too much and by such and such
Is happiness thrown away.
I gave her gifts of the mind,
I gave her the secret signs,
That's known to the artists who have known
The true gods of sound and stone.
And her words and tint without stint
I gave her poems to say
With her own name there and her own dark hair
Like clouds over fields of May.
On a quiet street where old ghosts meet
I see her walking now,
And away from me so hurriedly
My reason must allow.
That I had loved, not as I should
A creature made of clay,
When the angel woos the clay, he'll lose
His wings at the dawn of day.
First published in 1946 as Dark Haired Myriam Ran Away
One of Janine's favorite — poem & song